Monday, June 13, 2005

“Wanting to believe” or science?

This weekend I was watching a DVD from the library with the final chapter of the 2001 PBS seven-part series Evolution. The segment, “What about God” considers the debate between evolution and biblical creation largely through the eyes of students at Wheaton, a liberal, Christian college. It also recounts an effort by students at one Indiana high school to have creationism added to the science curriculum.

The young people are all thoughtful and articulate. While the older students are figuring out how to reconcile their deep faith with what it means to be a scientist, the younger students are trying to get the school district to implement their idea of balance. They use phrases like “I want to believe” and “because it’s what I believe” to support creationism.

No one directly called them on it, but “wanting to believe” is not what science is about. In fact, it is the antithesis of science. A survey on scientific ethics reported in the British journal Nature (and elsewhere) last week highlights the dangers of “wanting to believe.” Among the findings:

“Fifteen percent [of respondents] said they had changed the design, methods or results of a study in response to pressure from a financial sponsor.

“Six percent said they failed to report data that contradicted their previous work.”

[See “Scientists admit to breaking rules, researchers say” by Maura Lerner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune]

More than anything, the report illustrates that scientists are human. Even when you are trained in the scientific method, you can be derailed if you stake your reputation – or your faith --on having your research validate a particular conclusion.


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